Florida Gov. Rick Scott has responded to news of a child-migrant camp opening in his state by, in part, throwing a bunch of other politicians under the bus. In a two-page letter to the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) yesterday, Scott disclosed that "Florida's congressional delegation" and "state and local officials" were told months ago that the Homestead shelter would reopen. The revelation raises questions about why not a single politician informed the public about it until New Times first reported Monday that the compound was holding more than 1,000 children.
According to records Scott's office sent New Times after this story was initially published, the Department of Health and Human Services sent Scott's communications director John Tupps an email on February 7 stating that the facility was re-opening. The message did not list what other lawmakers, specifically, were being notified along with Scott. The records state that politicians were also told in some sort of conference call.
The disclosure raises further questions about whether Rep. Carlos Curbelo, whose district includes the shelter, knew the facility was reopening. Curbelo has not said a word publicly about the facility this week, but in general has said he does not agree with Donald Trump's policy of separating families that arrive at the U.S. border.
Scott's disclosure also raises questions about when Democratic Rep. Debbie Wasserman Schultz and Sen. Bill Nelson learned the center was reopening.
Wasserman Schultz told a group of immigrant activists Monday morning that hundreds of kids had been placed in the Homestead Temporary Shelter for Unaccompanied Children, which initially opened in 2016 under President Obama to hold unaccompanied minors but later closed when a migrant surge abated. Though HHS has not responded to repeated messages from New Times, the agency told the Miami Herald yesterday there are 1,192 children at the facility — reportedly one in every ten unaccompanied minors in HHS custody. That number includes 391 girls and 94 children separated from their parents after arriving at the border.
Wasserman Schultz and Nelson arrived at the facility Tuesday for a tour, but HHS's Office of Refugee Resettlement did not let the lawmakers inside. Nelson told reporters he thinks the feds are hiding something.
Scott noted that members of Congress were told in February that the facility would house "unaccompanied minors," not children taken from their parents at the border — a tactic Trump didn't put into effect until last month.
Still, it's jarring to know the facility was operating for at least four months without any public announcements. According to records Scott's office released, federal officials said they had to repair damage from Hurricane Irma before opening the facility up again. (The Associated Press first reported on those documents last night.)
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In letter to HHS secretary re: family separation & immigrant kid detention lockup in FL, Gov. Rick Scott wants— Marc Caputo (@MarcACaputo) June 19, 2018
1 notification of kids in or moved to FL
2 to make sure HHS is health screening at border & again in shelters
3 to know about health education, social services pic.twitter.com/3NJEja7x4c
In the rest of Scott's letter, he accused the Democratic Party of "causing" the latest border crisis. Though that statement is not entirely incorrect in light of the party's inability to overhaul the immigration system, Republicans are obviously to blame for ramping up immigration arrests and instituting a child-separation policy that the United Nations calls illegal. Former ICE director John Sandweg told NBC News late yesterday that child separations have, in some cases, been permanent. Scott also chaired a pro-Trump political action committee that helped place this administration in power.
After lambasting Democrats for about 200 words, the governor finally got around to admitting that, no, in fact, he does not agree with the policy of separating children from their parents if they're caught by border agents. Instead, Scott has proposed reuniting families in immigration detention. For now, his only request is that HHS ensure every kid in Homestead is given proper medical care and education inside the de facto child prison.
But Scott also has a different tie to this mess. As New Times first reported yesterday, one of the contractors running the facility, Comprehensive Health Services, received $600,000 in tax incentives from Scott's administration in 2017. That award came five months after the company paid a $3.8 million Department of Justice settlement after a whistleblower accused it of double-billing taxpayers for medical services.